R.D. Merrill and His
Color Changing Knives
Last updated Dec 2009,
fixed web links, spell checked
A short history of the R.D. Merrill and his Color Changing
Knives, compiled from information provided by Mr. Gary Frank, of
the Fantastic Magic Company, Inc., in California, and from the
book, Merrill's Knife Book, by R.D. Merrill.
R.D. Merrill (Dale) has been described by Tommy Windsor as "the
absolute tops in knife manipulation."1 Dr. Merrill was
the original owner of the Fantastic Magic Company, and in the
1960's, developed the idea for a set of color changing knives that
would be ideal for manipulation. Some of the other products in the company
included Merrill's Million
to One Card Set, Merrill's
to One Paddles, and during magic conventions, he would
sell a jumbo version of the knife in Black and White. After
two years of research, he began making the knives in the late
The original Merrill Knife sets were 2 7/8" long, and came in either
Red/ White or Black/White combination. They also offered
imitation Bone/White. On special occasions, other knives were sold
with additional colors. These special colors were all hand tooled
by Dale. The original Merrill's have silver bolsters
and are illustrated in the Merrill
Knife Book by Dr. R. D. Merrill. Dale also made a Visible
Color Changing Knife to match these sets of knives.
The Merrill Knives combined the following features to provide
a knife ideal for the Color Changing Knives effect:
1. Length under 3" to fit most hands.
2. Narrow width to aid the in the color changing move. Wide knives
are harder to manipulate.
3. A slightly "squarish" and tapered shape also aids in the move.
4. Designed not to "flash" when viewed normally.
5. Stark colors (black and white or red and white) for a highly
6. Normal colors that a pen-knife would usually have.
7. Quality construction so the knife can be opened and closed and
shown to operate normally.
8. Silver bolsters with a quality construction so it looks just like
a nice pocket knife should.
9. Selection of a base knife in which the modifications to the knife
would not destroy the structural integrity. That is, the rivets
holding the knife together did not have to be destroyed to change
Knives were not Dale's only passion. He was a Baptist pastor for
over 25 years. He taught Federal Tax Law and was highly involved in
Church business planning.
The Fantastic Magic Company started in King of Prussia, PA, and then
moved to Santa Cruz, CA. Dr. Merrill manufactured the knives for
many years, and by the mid-70's had sold over 25,000 Merrill Color Changing Knives.
He also began to write Merrill's
Knife Book. It took Tommy Windsor over four years to
convince Dale to put his secrets in print. Due to personal reasons
in Mr. Merrill's life he wanted to sell the Fantastic Magic Company.
Sale of the Fantastic Magic
In 1975, Mr. Gary Frank purchased the company and products from R.D.
Merrill and took over production of the Color Changing Knives (along
with his other products) for several years. Mr. Frank continued to
make the knives until the original knife manufacturer closed their
shop down in 1977.
After this closing, an attempt was made to have the knives produced
in Pakistan. Rather than silver bolsters, the Pakistan manufactured
knives had brass bolsters. The first sample Gary received from the
manufacturer was a black and white knife combination and it was well
made, so Gary ordered the minimum amount. Sadly, when the production
order came in, the quality was just not there. The knives were
poorly made. They fell apart, the springs broke, the plastic was
scratched, the blades were backwards, they were filled with oil and
the list goes on.
So, Gary tried again, and the next quantity came into the shop in
perfect condition. However, right after that initial order, they
went back to being less than perfect. These knives eventually were
no longer made other than for paring knives in Pakistan. In the view
of Mr. Gary Frank, the Pakistan versions should never be placed in
name as "Merrill Knives".
In 1977, Dr. Merrill wanted to make knives again. He contacted Gary, and
Dale purchased the knife portion of the business and attempted to
keep making the current version of knives available for dealers.
It was too much work and since Gary was on tour, they agreed
someone else could continue making the knives. Al Cohen agreed to
purchase the knives from Dale. Al Cohen owned the
famous Al's Magic Shop
in Washington, D.C., which only recently changed hands and has
been well known for its great service and expertise. Al stopped
making the Pakistan Merrill-type knife in the 1980's because of
the poor quality of knives he was receiving. They were made in all
sorts of colors. There is an advertisement for the knives as sold by
Mr. Cohen in the 1981 edition of Merrill's Knife Book.
On the Pakistan knives, Gary Frank wrote me that there are two
generations of Merrill styled knives. He states that the first style
is not as squared. The last style made was the very squared style of
knife, which tended to flash more.
Merrill's Knife Book
Merrill's Knife Book took some time to publish. Tommy Windsor had
planned to publish the book around the mid 1970's. However, his own
health problems set in, and Robert Lee Jacobs purchased the rights
from Tommy Windsor Studio, and planned to publish the book in 1977.
Then, Tommy's death, a few tragedies in Mr. Jacobs' life, some
misunderstandings about the editing of the book, and the sale of the
Fantastic Magic Co., all interfered with the publishing.2
The book wasn't published until 1981.
Merrill's Knife Book is an excellent treatise on the subject of the
color changing knives. It is the first book (in English) totally
devoted to the color changing knives effect. It includes numerous,
clear, B&W photographs showing R.D. Merrill's hands in front of
a mirror so you can see both the magician's and the audience's view
of the presentation. A full table of contents listing of the book
can be viewed on the Table of Contents pages on this website. (here)
Sadly, the Merrill knives are no longer available today, except in
the used market. There have been several attempts to create
copies of the original Merrill Color Changing Knives design, with
varying success. None have exactly matched the combination of
utility and design of the originals. In one example, the blade
handles have been replaced by sparkling plastic, producing a knife
that few would normally carry with them.
The best color changing knives will appear as a basic pocket
knife and nothing more. Simplicity and a careful presentation are
the keys to an effective performance.
Gary Frank reports that he had returned from a recent magic
convention where most of his time was spent demonstrating the basic
color changing move. The majority of the magicians use the ice cream
stick style of move to perform the knife effect. Gary demonstrates
to them how doing the move this way will flash the other color each
time. As Dr. Merrill describes in his book, it is important to
hold the knife in the middle and then perform the move in a
Today, Gary Frank is still providing color changing knives to the
magic community, though of a different design than the Merrill
version of the color changing knife was the second selection which
Dr. Merrill attempted to originally locate many years ago. This
knife is made with plastic sides in Stag-like Black/White. Gary is
making a Visible Color Changing Knife for these sets of knives,
too. He also now owns the publication of Merrill's Knife Book in both
hardbound or softbound editions (transferred from Mr. Lee Jacobs).
Mr. Frank also produces a shorter version of the Merrill book that
is provided with his knife sets, though the full book is preferred
for its additional chapters and inclusion of photographs. The
website and contact information for the Fantastic Magic Company,
Inc., can be found at:
Fantastic Magic Company, Inc.
P.O. Box 33156
Granada Hills, CA 91394-3156
1. Merrill, R.D., The Merrill Knife Book, (c)1981, page 4, in
Introduction by Tommy Windsor
2. Merrill, R.D., The Merrill Knife Book, (c)1981, page 6, in
Publisher's Apology by Lee Jacobs
Ad as found in the 1981 printing of Merrill's Knife Book
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